Category Archives: Environment

Election Focus 2017: Voting for hope

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the day we decide, individually and collectively, what we want from our government for the next five years.  This is our opportunity to show politicians our values, our hopes, and our vision for the UK. I urge you to make the most of this opportunity – please vote, and encourage others (particularly young people) to vote too.

Vote based on policies

When you vote, don’t do it based on what the media (or social media) say; vote based on policies. Much of our media has vested interests to protect, which may not be the same as what is in your, or our collective interest. Look beyond the headlines at what the parties intend to do.

Obviously, environmental policy isn’t the only thing you’ll think about when you vote, but please do take it into account, as there are important differences between some of the parties. I hope my blog posts comparing what the party manifestos have to say on various environmental issues have been helpful to you.

If you’re not sure who to vote for…

Having spent so much time immersed (reluctantly) in the manifestos, I’d got to the point where I wasn’t sure who I was going to vote for. Three of the UK-wide parties (Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens) had quite good policies on environmental issues. And my constituency is such a Tory safe seat, my vote will have no impact on the outcome. (More on this later, if you’re in the same position). So I spent some time working through the ‘Vote for Policies‘ tool, covering all the issues I was remotely interested in. It’s more time-consuming than other similar tools I’ve tried, but I’ve found it the most helpful. If you’re not sure who you should vote for, give it go – it’s worth investing a bit of your time today to make sure you make the right decision.

If you’re considering voting for the Conservatives…

Please remember that, by voting for the Conservatives you are giving them permission to:

  • make fracking easier, including taking power to decide on whether fracking should be allowed away from local councils, and allowing exploratory and monitoring drilling to take place without the need to get planning permission.
  • try to bring back fox hunting
  • weaken environmental protection laws once we leave the EU (unlike Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, the Tories do not make any commitments about keeping or enhancing the current levels of protection)

They make a few, vague but seemingly ambitious environmental claims (on climate change, air pollution and the environment in general), but consistently provide no details on how they will achieve them. This undermines their credibility, and is in keeping with the way they’ve run this whole campaign – refusing to answer questions on what they will do or how, and treating the voters as idiots who’ll happily write them a blank cheque. Soundbites are not going to reduce air pollution-related deaths or bring down our carbon emissions.

If you’re considering voting for UKIP…

If you think that there’s a chance that 97% of climate scientists might be right about climate change, please do not vote for UKIP. Climate change is too big an issue to pretend it isn’t happening, and we don’t need to do anything about it. Their policies on this issue would make the problem worse. We cannot afford that.

Vote tactically to keep the Tories out

As well as thinking about whose policies you like best, if your constituency is not a safe seat, please think about tactical voting. I truly believe that five more years of a Conservative majority government will be very bad news for the environment (and our health service, schools etc. etc…)

Is it worth voting if you’re in a safe seat?

Where I live is one of the safest Tory seats in the country. How I vote will make no difference to who ends up as my MP. So does it matter if I don’t vote? I believe it does. I can vote with my heart for the party I believe has the best policies – I don’t need to compromise to keep the worse option (the Tories or UKIP) out. But what does that achieve? When people look at the total number of votes each party received nationally, they will see my vote, and know that I support those policies and that vision for the UK. Opposition parties get “Short money” from the public purse, based on how many votes they receive. So by voting for my preferred party, I am also increasing the amount they receive (by a tiny amount) to support their work.

Tomorrow I’ll be voting for hope. Please join me.

Voting for hope

Election Focus 2017: protecting our seas

For today’s Election Focus, I am looking at what the parties say about how they will protect our seas. I have split this into several headings: protected areas around our shores; international marine protection; plans to tackle plastic pollution; and fishing.

Click on the image to see it full size.

How the parties say they will protect our seas
How the parties say they will protect our seas

My reflections

  • The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems are all a bit vague on UK marine protected areas. How much (more)  will they protect? What does that protection include? The Greens give a bit more detail.
  • Only the Tories talk about marine protection around British Overseas Territories, and their plans sound ambitious. I am not sure if they are referring to the marine protection zone already announced, or if this is additional.
  • Labour, the Greens, UKIP and Plaid Cymru all talk of introducing (or investigating) a plastic bottle deposit scheme to reduce waste. The Green Party seems to be the most ambitious in this area.
  • With Brexit, future fishing policy is a big topic, and now is a good opportunity to improve management of our fish stocks. The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems all mention sustainability in their plans. UKIP have a lot to say on fisheries, but it’s all about taking back control, with no mention of sustainability.
  • Plaid Cymru and the SNP are both very quiet about protecting our seas.

Election Focus 2017: air pollution

Air pollution is a very important issue,  and we’ve been letting our politicians off the hook on it for too long. When I studied for my MSc in Public Health I learnt about the health effects of air pollution, and was amazed more people aren’t up in arms about it.

It’s estimated to contribute to 40,000 deaths each year in the UK. It makes children ill, and life unpleasant for those of us who work in cities. And it affects the poorest in society the worst – those who can’t afford to live further from major roads.

As a country, we’re really not doing well on this issue. The EU sets legally binding limits on air pollution, which we repeatedly exceed. The government were taken to court in 2015 for failing to do enough, and they lost. Last year a cross party committee of MPs criticised the government’s revised plan and called air pollution a public health emergency.

Given this, you’d hope all the political parties would have robust plans to deal with this problem in their manifesto. Let’s see what they have to say.

I have split this into several headings: legislation, diesel vehicles  (a major source of pollution), other related transport policies, and other measures.

Click on the image to see it full size.

What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution
What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution

My reflections

  • I am not sure if the sentence from the Tory manifesto about planting trees is how they plan to tackle air pollution, or an unrelated point. It’s all in the same paragraph, along with promises to reduce litter and fill in potholes. It’s certainly not a robust response to a public health emergency.
  • Many of the other manifestos spend quite a bit of time criticising the government’s record on air pollution. It’s an open goal and well deserved. But successive governments have failed to get a handle on it (including the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition, and Labour before them).
  • There’s not a single mention of diesel in the Tory manifesto, despite it being a big contributor to the problem.
  • I think the Lib Dem manifesto is the most convincing on this issue.
  • UKIP and SNP give no indication of wanting to reduce air pollution, and UKIP’s policies may well make the problem worse.
  • On a side issue, while searching for ‘air’ in the UKIP manifesto, I came across six mentions of Tony Blair. Given how long he’s been out of power, this seems a bit weird to me.

Election focus: protecting nature

For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:

  • wildlife legislation
  • protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
  • international wildlife protection
  • fox hunting
  • the badger cull
  • neonicotinoids
  • woodland
  • other wildlife issues

Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.

What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues

My reflections

  • The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets.  I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t  effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
  • I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue  to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
  • Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
  • The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
  • UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
  • SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.

Election focus 2017: climate change and energy policy

Thanks to Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election, three years ahead of schedule, I have to leave the lovely world of hedgehogs, dormice and baby birds to delve into the murky world of politics. Over the next week, I’ll try to summarise where the major UK parties stand on various environmental issues, based on their published manifestos.

I’m starting this series with the biggest challenge facing our generation: climate change. Where we mark our X on the ballot paper next week will have big implications not just for the next five years, but for much longer. And there’s a real difference between the parties on this issue as well.

Climate change is a huge issue, and overlaps with many other areas of policy. I’ve split up each party’s position into a few headings, to make it easier to follow:

  1. Targets & commitments
  2. Legislation
  3. Power generation
  4. Britain’s place in the world response to climate change
  5. Homes
  6. Mitigation
  7. Transport
  8. Science & industry

NB. I’m not going to report on all of their policies related to homes / transport etc – just those they link to carbon emissions or climate change.

The manifestos of the parties varied greatly in length, meaning some give much more detail than others. I didn’t ask them for further information, or search their websites. Having said that, the longer manifestos didn’t always mean more information about how they were going to achieve their stated goals.

The following tables are, I hope, an accurate reflection of what the parties say in their manifesto.  Of course, we all know that manifesto promises don’t always materialise, but, without a crystal ball, the best we can judge parties on is their prior actions and what they say they will do in the future. Click on the tables to see them full size.

Where the parties stand on climate change targets and commitments, legislation, and power generation
Where the parties stand on climate change targets and commitments, legislation, and power generation
Where the parties stand on Britain's role in the world response to climate change, and homes
Where the parties stand on Britain’s role in the world response to climate change, and homes
Where the parties stand on climate change mitigation, transport and science and industry

 

My verdict

I’ve tried to be fairly neutral in my reporting of what the parties say, and you can draw your own conclusions. But since it’s my blog, I thought I’d add a few of my reflections, which you can ignore if you want to.

  • The Tories provide very little detail about what they will actually do to combat climate change. They don’t spell out what their power generation mix will be, but their support for shale gas shows that they just haven’t got the idea that fossil fuels are not the way forward. They pay lip service to our carbon reduction obligations, but provide no info on how they will meet them. They even try to claim credit for the Climate Change Act that was introduced by the Labour government in 2008.
  • Some of the parties refer to climate in change in many different sections of their manifesto, showing that they get that this issue is not just about power supplies, but will reflect many aspects of our life.
  • Some of the parties (Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP) present a clear vision of how they see Britain playing a role internationally,  – I found this quite inspiring.
  • Some of the parties (Labour, Lib Dems, SNP) presented the climate change challenge as an opportunity to develop new technology, industries, exports and jobs in the UK.
  • A vote for UKIP is a vote for climate catastrophe.
  • The Green Party manifesto was about a quarter of the length of some of the others, so inevitably has less detail. I’m not sure how the Tories managed to write 88 pages while saying so little about what they will actually do. Labour and the Lib Dems both have quite long, detailed manifestos.

Riversearch December 2016: jeweled birds

The day was overcast, and the trees lining the river were bare, looking almost desolate. As soon as I got down to the river for my Riversearch survey on the final day of 2016, I felt convinced that I would see a kingfisher.

The river level was quite low, and relatively clear for a change. No signs of pollution. My winter surveys are always the most thorough. The impenetrable barricade of nettles and brambles had died back enough for me to get much closer to the river than normal.

As far as the survey goes, there was little to report (which is good, but not interesting). I was rewarded for tearing myself away from the fireside by a glimpse of a kingfisher, the most spectacular of British birds. But that wasn’t all. As I retraced my steps, back to the car, I spotted my first ever goldcrest. I was very excited about this, as I have long wanted to see one.

As though the kingfisher and goldcrest hadn’t provided enough colour to make up for the dullness of the day, a pair of bright green ring-necked parakeets also made a show.

It was as though nature was reminding me that although 2016 may have felt pretty bleak, there were bright spots in it. As I start 2017, uncertain what it will bring,  I will look out for beauty.

Looking back at 2016

I’m looking forward to shaking the dust of 2016 from my sandals. But it hasn’t all been bad. Here are my highlights and lowlights from the year.

Highlights

I find January pretty tough – I’m not a fan of cold, and the lack of light gets me down. So a fun day out at the British Wildlife Centre with my fellow members of Surrey Dormouse Group was a welcome relief.

Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box
Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box

I love spring, and seeing the bluetits start to build a nest in my camera nest box meant the return home each day was exciting – what’s happened today?!

My Wild Garden 2016 challenge kept me busy over the year, as each month I tried to make my garden better for wildlife. For the first time this year I fed live mealworms to the birds – it was great seeing how well this went down with them, and something I’ll do again in 2017. We also installed an insect house, and it was great watching the bees move in. Perhaps my favourite Wild Garden activity of the year was creating the Bog Garden – lots of digging involved, but worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this year, now the plants have had a chance to bed in and grow.

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

As always, it’s a delight to watch hedgehogs in the garden, and even more exciting (and entertaining) to watch their courtship.

Dr C gave me a great new toy – a macro lens, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with that over the year. The Macrophotography course I did with Adrian Davies was particularly helpful. Some of the images I took that day even featured in my 2017 calendar!

Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower
Butterfly on bramble flower

It’s been a good year for my dormouse site. In one box check we had 9 dormice (including 7 youngsters crammed into one box!), and we’ve now had dormouse activity in every part of the site, which is great news.

16g dormouse found in May
16g dormouse found in May

And it’s great that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has now come into force. On a smaller scale, it’s lovely to hear that the beavers on the River Otter are breeding.

Lowlights

Work has been very tough this year (particularly in the first half of the year), so this blog has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. It’s frustrating, as I’ve loads of things I wanted to tell you about, and lots of photos and videos that need editing.

It’s not been a great year for my garden birds – the Big Garden Birdwatch in January, when we saw only one bird. The bluetits that started to build their nest in the camera nest box soon abandoned it. And when I looked at the data over the year from June 2015 to May 2016, it confirmed that we’ve had far fewer birds than normal.

The referendum result was staggering, and, to me, hugely disappointing. It’s still not clear how it will affect many things, including our laws for protecting wildlife and the environment. The whole campaign was a bit of a disaster – even those campaigning for remain failed to make a case on the positive things that EU membership has brought this country, including cleaner rivers, beaches and air, and protection for species like dormice. One thing is clear: we need make sure whatever happens next does not damage this protection.

2016 has seen a lot of beloved public figures die. Among them, perhaps the most famous tiger in the world: Machli, the lady of the lake. I was lucky enough to see her in the wild, back in 2006. She has had a long life for a tiger, and brought up many youngsters that will continue her legacy. But it’s still sad to think she is no longer ruling the temples and lakes of Ranthambore.

Bengal tiger
Machli

Let’s hope next year brings peace, reconciliation and restoration between people, and between humans and nature.

In which I moan about light pollution on the darkest day of the year

Today’s the shortest day of the year, so it may seem churlish to spend it complaining about light. But don’t get me wrong – it’s not sunlight I have a problem with. I can vaguely remember what it’s like, and I’m keen to renew the acquaintance. It’s light pollution that I want to talk about today.

It’s obvious how water pollution can harm wildlife – the dramatic decline of the otter in the mid 20th century is a well known example. And we’re hearing more about the health effects air pollution has for humans (and presumably wildlife are affected too). But there’s less awareness of the problem of light pollution.

Last week there was a story on the BBC website about how robins’ behaviour is affected by light pollution. A study by Southampton University found that robins that lived closer to lit paths and noisy roads were much lower down this dominance hierarchy – the birds in these territories displayed less aggressively.

Robins aren’t the only creatures affected by light pollution. Other birds, reptiles, amphibians, moths and bats are also affected negatively. But some species can adapt to make the most of it, like the common redshank, getting longer to feed because of artificial lights.

Another disadvantage of light pollution is that it stops us seeing so many stars. Where I live, in a street-lit town, I’m never going to see the Milky Way. On holidays to more remote, darker places, the stars at night take my breath away.

Light pollution is a subject that’s too close to home for me. My bedroom overlooks a recently refurbished office building that’s floodlit throughout the night, meaning that, despite the blackout lining of my curtains, my bedroom never properly gets dark.

In some places things are being done to reduce light pollution. The funding cuts for councils means many are now looking to save money (and reduce carbon emissions) by turning off street lighting in residential roads late at night. In fact, my council are introducing this to the town I live in next month. My road is a major traffic route, so the lights will stay on. But other, quieter roads, will have their lights turned off between midnight and 5am in the morning. Hopefully this will benefit at least some of the local wildlife and residents.

As for me, I’m looking forward to a trip west, where night will be dark, and, if the skies are clear, I’ll be able to see the Milky Way.

Meeting my MP for #SpeakUp Week of Action on climate change

It’s not a huge secret that my political views are left of centre. Over the years I have met a few MPs about various  issues. But I have always struggled to put my point across effectively to Conservatives. How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t share any of your values? I knew I needed a different approach when meeting my MP for the Speak Up Week of Action on climate change.

My MP is a Tory with all the confidence a 25,000 vote majority gives. My previous attempts at communicating with him have not been massively successful. You can see his voting record on climate change – it didn’t fill me with hope that this was likely to be a productive meeting. But I remember one speaker at an eco church event telling us never to give up on our MP. So I needed to come up with a plan of how to persuade him.

In preparation for the Week of Action, the Climate Coalition organised a webinar focusing on how to talk to MPs from the centre right about climate change. It was massively helpful, emphasising the need to think about what they value, and how tackling climate change relates to that. They also talked about not using language that will automatically put them off.

Inspired by the webinar, I met with John and Roger (fellow Christians with a concern for environmental justice) to discuss our strategy. The plan was that we would all meet the MP together. Each of us would talk about why we care about climate change, using language that would speak to the MP’s values (protecting the landscape of where we live, leaving a positive legacy, and action on climate change making sense financially as well as environmentally). We would then ask him to write to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, calling on him to publish an ambitious low carbon investment plan.

Confident we had a good plan, I emailed  the MP’s researcher to double check the arrangements. It was at that stage I learnt that only I would be allowed to see the MP. This was a blow. Added to the fact that my MP only holds surgeries on a Friday afternoon, meaning that I had to take time off work to meet him, it gave the impression that he’s not terribly keen on meeting his constituents. I felt that this was an attempt to give him the upper hand, making me determined not to be phased.

One of the points the webinar encouraged us to make was that we speak for the ‘silent majority’. People are concerned about climate change, and want the government to act. Now, that’s easy to say, but harder to back up, especially to a sceptical Tory. The turnout at the nature walk was a bit disappointing. Hardly convincing evidence of the strength of feeling in the constituency. Luckily we had another string to our bow. We were able to get almost 100 signatures for the big green heart at church, calling on our MP to take action. That gave me confidence to go into the meeting knowing that I was speaking on behalf of many others.

Another of the top tips the webinar gave was to dress in a way your MP would respect, so I dressed in my smartest work dress, and walked across town carrying the big green heart.

The meeting went as well as could be expected. He listened while I said my bit. I refused to be riled when he said a couple of things that I suspect were meant to provoke me. Generally his body language was quite defensive. The bit of the conversation he really engaged with was when I told him my solar panels were generating more electricity than we use each year.

He didn’t agree to write to the Secretary of State, but said he would forward on a letter if I sent one to him. At the end I asked if he had any message for the people who had signed the heart. He said to tell them that he was “on side”. Time will tell if his voting record on climate change improves. But even if he just looks into getting solar panels on his house, that will at least be some progress.

There’s a parable in the Bible about a widow who gets an unjust judge to give her justice because of her persistence (to shut her up).  Climate change isn’t going away, so perhaps she provides a useful example to follow when dealing with MPs whose actions don’t match the importance of the issue.

#SpeakUp Week of Action nature walk

Last week was the Climate Coalition’s Week of Action on climate change. People across the country got together to let their MPs know that they care about climate change. As part of it, I organised a nature walk for the Mole Valley constituency.

Organising a walk in October is rather risky, so Roger (who helped me promote the event) and I were both praying hard for good weather. And our prayers were answered: it was lovely and sunny as we gathered, and the rain held off until the end of the walk.

On our nature walk in the Surrey Hills
On our nature walk in the Surrey Hills

One of the ranger team at a nearby National Trust property had volunteered to lead the walk, which was great. Stu told us about the different trees we encountered, and how the rangers plan for the long term, planting trees now to replace those that will die in the next 100 years. I think we all learnt something, as well as having a very pleasant stroll in the beautiful Surrey Hills.

An example of Ash dieback: the top of this tree is dead
An example of Ash dieback – look at the top of this tree

Things I learnt:

 

  • beech trees have very shallow roots
  • stinking iris leaves smell of beef crisps
  • what Ash dieback looks like
  • you need to plan decades ahead when looking after an estate
  • one little pot of Rodda’s clotted cream was enough for my big scone, after all

Our MP wasn’t able to make it, but we knew that in good time, so have a plan. Three of us have an appointment to meet him at his surgery next week. We’ll present him with a big green heart with pictures people have sent me of things they care about that will be affected by climate change. The local Brownies have contributed, as have kids at church. We’ll also include some photos from the walk. We just need to work out what to say to persuade him to vote for action on climate change.

The intrepid walkers with the big green heart
The intrepid walkers with the big green heart

It was quite a lot of work, organising the walk, particularly promoting it to local groups and the local paper. I don’t think it played to my strengths. My efforts weren’t spectacularly successful, but the crucial bit will be meeting the MP.